City officials take stand in Buie trial

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- It was an emotional day for Nicole Brown.

The former contractor for the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority and love interest of former ADICA CEO Don Buie at times fought back tears as she described the complex set of events that led her to the witness stand during his theft trial Wednesday.

During the same testimony, however, a resilient Brown methodically

told jurors how Buie -- by her accounts an outgoing, successful man with ambition and drive -- swept her up from a job as a bartender. Buie then put Brown to work as a part-time ADICA contractor handing out flyers and speaking with vendors all while being paid thousands in taxpayer dollars. This came before Buie cast her aside for another woman after their relationship had become "something more than professional."

Brown, testifying Wednesday as a witness for the state after prosecutors agreed to offer her a plea deal in exchange for her cooperation against Buie, testified that Buie's alleged lies began early on in their relationship. Buie reportedly told Brown that he was divorced from his wife Shanon, when in fact, he was not.

That deceit, prosecutors contend, continued on with both Brown and others who had contact with Buie up until he was fired from his position July 28.

Brown's testimony could largely be considered the high point of Wednesday's proceedings in Buie's trial on theft and fraud charges, during which the city's three top non-elected leaders were called to testify as well.

Brown testified candidly that her feelings for Buie ran deep and that she didn't want to be in court on Wednesday, afraid that her words would be the ones that were most likely to hurt her former boyfriend.

But nonetheless, Brown testified that Buie did, in fact, ask her to cash a check for $2,200 from an ADICA account. Afterwards, Buie asked for the cash. He gave Brown $400 and kept the remainder for himself.

It was that transaction -- spelled out in an affidavit written by ADICA board member and attorney Phil Cannon after Brown was coaxed into contacting him by her grandmother Judith Miller -- that ultimately led to the GBI investigation and city audit that revealed thousands in what prosecutors say was misspent taxpayer dollars.

Brown also said that she was blackmailed by someone prosecutors believe was linked to Buie. The blackmailer threatened to publicly release what Brown said was a humiliating private recording, should she saying anything that would implicate Buie.

Brown testified that on the day she was given that check, Buie had said he and his wife had been arguing about tuition for their daughter's school. But when Brown asked Buie what the money was for, he told it was nothing for her to worry about.

That money, prosecutors say, actually ended up going to satisfy more than $2,200 in missed car payments.

Additionally, Brown testified that she never rented any sound equipment or lighting equipment of any kind, despite supposed fake invoices to the contrary that attempt to justify payments of hundreds of dollars to her approved by Buie.

Defense attorney Johnnie Graham told jurors during her opening statements that Buie was simply trying to fulfill an ambitious set of goals with very limited resources and, along the way, garnered the scorn of a disgruntled girlfriend.

"Folks expected him to hit the ground running," she said. "Do what you have to do to (get) done what we want done."

"To get people downtown, he did whatever he could, but he didn't lie, he didn't cheat and he didn't steal," Graham said.

Graham said that Buie had a vision for downtown Albany, but that vision was simply out of reach given the resources at his disposal.

In her cross examination of former ADICA and Albany Tomorrow Inc. bookkeeper Shonnie King, Graham pressed King on the invoices attached to some of the checks that the state has pointed to as evidence of Buie's supposed financial impropriety. Graham said that only check stubs were presented related to "Shanon Lee," and not the other items such as checks made out to the Flint RiverQuarium or Albany Recreation and Parks Department.

Graham also questioned City Manager Alfred Lott about an ethics course he testified was established in summer 2008, which was required for all city employees and department heads -- including Buie.

Graham asked if Lott had any way of knowing whether employees had actually read and understood the material he was requiring them to know, to which he replied no.

Lott also testified that when he confronted Buie about the Shanon Lee that had been issued checks from ADICA at Buie's request, Buie told Lott, "Obviously, that's my wife."

Assistant City Manager and former ADICA Executive Director Wes Smith testified about the history of ADICA and its role in the community. His counterpart in the city government, Assistant City Manager and Interim ADICA CEO James Taylor, testified about ethics and the city's guidelines for paying relatives for work.

Additionally, the state called Laverne Mcroy, whose post office box was the same one prosecutors say was used by Buie on invoices they believe were fake. Mcroy testified that she never met or knew Buie or his wife and didn't know why her address would've been used on an invoice.

In his opening statements to jurors, Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Cohilas painted Buie as a slick, manipulative opportunist who had an insatiable appetite for women and money.

"Essentially, the defendant was a master of confusion," he told jurors. "He was a devastating force in city government and downtown development."

Testimony is expected to resume at 9 a.m. today with the cross examination of Brown by Graham at the Dougherty County Courthouse.